Friday, January 16, 2015

The Truth about #RealPigFarming - That's a Pig Barn?

 Why yes, that IS a pig barn.
(photo courtesy of

Raising livestock today is nothing like it was in the ages past. I'm going to somewhat explore how hog confinement has developed.

In the days where most farmers across the country were very small, and had a little of every type of animal, there was not enough income to justify spending a lot on developing some sort of housing for specific types of animals.  Some farmers would use the classic barn as a semi-universal building, but different animals still needed separated.  In these days, swine were mostly raised outside on pastures, or "hog lots."  Sows were typically raised in small hoop-like buildings, or wooden "hog huts", on these lots.  As late as 2012, Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, KY, still had some of these sorts of facilities for people to use as a learning and evaluation tool.  The issue we face is the harsh weather conditions, especially here in the Midwest.  Extreme cold could lead to freezing, death, loss of piglets, frostbite, and more.  Likewise, extreme hot leads to pigs not breeding, heat stress (pigs cannot sweat), overheating, and sometimes death.  There is also the higher risk of diseases that can be carried by birds, etc., due to the open environment, as well as predator complications.  Some examples of these sorts of housing are shown below.

Property of The Foodie Farmer 

An example from the UK - Property of The Guardian

As the swine housing world began to develop in the 60s-70s, there were different sorts of buildings.  Nursery buildings mostly went to being enclosed with slatted floors, and LP gas heaters to control the climate.  These have only gotten more complex.  For example, we once just had a thermostat that we set, and walked away from.  Now, we have a telephone and an intricate system that is tied to every heater control box in all six rooms of one of our nurseries.  Any time the rooms get below our "set point," they have a certain range where the temperature can fluctuate before we get a phone call telling us we have a problem.  There is a numeric passcode we enter to acknowledge the issue, and we have 30 minutes to fix it, or it starts calling down the pre-programmed list of numbers in the system.  It is pretty amazing to be honest.  Below are pictures from nursery buildings.

I took these photos two weeks ago.  Ironically it was actaully 86.7* in the room where the piglets are sleeping in the pile.  They like to do that, and I cannot figure out why.

Farrowing was also largely taken inside at this point.  We still farrow on concrete floors that we bed with straw and clean out each morning.  Many other operations have slatted floors in farrowing barns.

Hopefully some of you recognize that sow, Miss Peggy, from my post, Miss Peggy Sue and You.
When sows farrow (have piglets), we put on the heat lamps (pictured above), to assure that pigs can move away from the mother and under that when first born.  It helps with the drying process, as well as it is a place where they can go (we call that, the creep) where they can get away from the sow if they desire.  Piglets often sleep under the lamps.

Early finishing barns were open, and were largely heated by the energy provided by the hog naturally.  Some of these were called "Nebraska Buildings."  I recently learned this.  I do not recall the story why, but they could wander outside if they wished, or go inside.  The lack of ability to heat the buildings was an issue, as was the likelihood of water lines freezing during cold winter months.  Three of the buildings we use are actually based on the basic "Nebraska Building" style.  Only one has not had the roof extended to cover the whole pen, and had heaters added.  The one that is still open has a special system set up with return water lines and a coil heater system to prevent water line freezes.  The top two photos are actually what were called "Cargill Buildings."  I do not know the whole history behind the name.  It had a small roofed part, and most of the pen was open to the elements.  The main difference is the amount of covered space, compared to the amount of open space outside.  Below are pictures of these open-style finishing buildings.  

The first photo was from Purdue University in an old file, and the bottom photo is from when we loaded market hogs in December of 2013.  As you can see, the bottom picture we have extended the roof to cover the whole pen and protect the pigs from the elements(I shouldn't say "we" - this was done back in the late 70s, or early 80s).  There is a roll down curtain that helps to retain heat in the winter.  In the summer months, we open the curtain, and the windows that line the back wall to let the south-north wind blow through.

Where are we today? Well, today, we have buildings that are carefully climate controlled, and most new buildings also have a forced air system that uses fans to bring air through, and works in conjunction with the curtains that I explained earlier.  Most curtain systems are actually electronic.  Again, based on a thermostat, we set a point for the curtain and heater to maintain a temperature, and the curtain automatically can open and close to complete this task.
The goal is to limit stress on the animals.  Pigs are like us, they're no good if you stress them out.  Also like humans, they get much less agreeable when you put them in a bad mood.
Below is a picture of the inside of one of these wean-finish barns.  It is a common practice in many new facilities to design the building to be usable from the time piglets are weaned, all the way to when they are sold, so you will notice smaller pigs in the photo.

I know this post was rather lengthy, but I appreciate you sticking with me as I continue my series, The Truth about #RealPigFarming.

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